When it comes to branding for cannabis-infused food and beverages, knowing who the consumer is—and what their needs are—is crucial to developing successful products.

That’s easier said than done, especially if brand owners and manufacturers aren’t entirely sure who will walk through the dispensary door, notes Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer, Wana Brands, Boulder, Colorado.

“There is a little bit of a dearth of consumer profile information for brands,” he says. “Over the last couple years, we’ve gotten a little bit better about access to data from a point of sales standpoint...It is difficult to really parse out the consumer and who you’re targeting.”

Offering a diverse product portfolio, along with adopting strategies refined in the traditional consumer packaged goods (CPG) space, allows brands to serve the multitude of consumers coming to cannabis with different backgrounds, levels of experience, interests, and demands.


Borrowing from CPG

Cris Rivera, senior VP, retail marketing and store development, Cresco Labs, Chicago, says the company relies on CPG strategy to create brands that address specific needs and price points, in addition to having “distinctive, iconic visual identities” that stand out to consumers.

“This approach allows us to best deliver on different consumer segment’s expectations, meeting the consumer and patients needs of today while building for the needs of the future,” he says.

In September 2020, Cresco Labs introduced the Good News brand, which targets defined moods and social occasions with product names such as Me Time, Brunch, Friyay, and Vegas. Two months later, the company followed Good News with the introduction of the Wonder Wellness Co. brand, designed to appeal to new cannabis consumers.

The familiarity of edible formats—particularly gummies—can help bring new consumers to cannabis. With gummies occupying about 85 percent of the confectionery edibles space, according to BDSA, Wana’s core offerings align with market trends, Hodas says.

“The universality of the format, being a gummy, is also a big part of it,” he says. “If you’ve got a gummy in your portfolio, you’re probably addressing the majority of the edible consuming public.”

Hodas adds Wana Brands aims to make its products approachable to consumers through its messages of authenticity, consistency, and quality. The company’s packaging is child-resistant, biodegradable, and features a clean and simple design that demonstrates that the cannabis products are meant to fit into consumers’ lives—not dominate them.

“All those parts and pieces of the packaging say to the consumer this is a company you can trust and feel confidence in,” he says.

Chris Petersen, managing director, CarryOn, Denver, Colorado, says the brand’s development team, operating under Ocean Spray’s Lighthouse Incubator, was also interested in the “canna-curious” when it began developing the sparkling cannabidiol (CBD) beverage brand.

In communicating with consumers, the brand team uncovered an “insatiable curiosity” surrounding CBD and cannabis, as well as strong desire to find natural, non-pharmacological remedies for everyday problems such as stress, anxiety, and pain relief.

“What I continue to be amazed by is just how impactful they see CBD as being in their lives,” Petersen says. “They really are turning to it as a solution to solve some serious issues they contend with.”

He adds Ocean Spray’s “progressive, forward-thinking approach” to the CBD market allowed CarryOn to leverage a team of product developers experienced in the traditional CPG beverage arena—as well as traditional market research sources—to bring two varieties of sparkling beverages to market tests in less than six months.


Branding for retail

Even though CarryOn has been on the market for just over a year, the brand has already transformed its packaging based on consumer feedback.

Petersen says CarryOn, which targets both men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, launched with the sub-brands Elevate and Descend. However, those names didn’t clearly communicate the functional benefits, so the team rebranded them as Relax and Recover.

“Those positionings are compelling to the consumer, and they’re really driven by the extra ingredients we put in there—the vitamins, the choline, the L-theanine,” Petersen says. “That’s what enabled us to make those sub-brand claim names.”

Additionally, CarryOn updated the brand’s packaging to make the CBD content more prominent, as well as provide flavor cues and set it apart with a bolder color palette.

“When you’re launching a brand that doesn’t have a strong brand equity quite built yet, your packaging really has to resonate with the consumers at the shelf, particularly in a traditional retail environment where there are a lot of competitive products, and it really needs to pop,” Petersen says. “That became a strategic priority for our team.” 

CarryOn first launched in Denver-area liquor stores, but it has since been picked up by Sprouts Farmers Market and Leevers Locavore.

Petersen says there is “tremendous interest” in CBD among traditional retailers, but the lack of federal regulation has made them hesitant to bring on infused food and beverage products. When federal laws change, however, Petersen says CarryOn is looking forward to building on Ocean Spray’s connections.

“They have pre-existing relationships with traditional retail customers we’d love to be in distribution with, so I only see it as being an unbelievable competitive advantage,” he says. “Partnering with them is a dream come true.”

Hodas notes consumers are likely to turn to non-dispensary channels to find pure CBD products, though they could come to dispensaries for ratio products. He says Wana Brands has hemp products under its Wana Wellness brand at specialty and natural stores, but much of its CBD business is direct-to-consumer.

As a result, the Wana Wellness website is built for ecommerce, but the Wana Brands site is designed to educate consumers.

“It’s to bring consumers into our little universe and drive them to find a product they like, but we can’t actually convert them on the website,” he says. “We structure it differently, we think about the brand a little differently in terms of what we’re trying to get across to the consumer through our digital footprint.”

Furthermore, keeping budtenders—the gatekeepers between consumers and conversion—educated on the brand’s products is crucial. Hodas says Wana Brands conducts trainings, creates content targeted to owners, buyers and salespeople, and uses incentive platforms to maintain their knowledge and interest.

“We’re constantly reinforcing the idea of education, and we’re telling the budtender ‘your time is valuable, your time is important, if you spend it on learning our products and learning about edibles, we want to reward you for that,’” he says.

Rivera also cites the need for education at retail. He says Cresco Labs builds its Sunnyside dispensaries to be open and inviting. It also launched the “Ask Us Anything” campaign to invite shoppers to ask questions without judgement.

Cresco Labs also stocks company-owned items and other brands to offer its customers comfort and variety, in addition to learning opportunities.

“There exists an opportunity to bring more consumers into the cannabis category through education that addresses the various benefits of cannabis, different formats, usage, attributes and effects,” Rivera says. “Part of normalizing the cannabis industry is continuously demonstrating to consumers how cannabis can be a part of their daily lives and play a larger role during certain occasions.”

Image Source: Courtesy of CarryOn Wellness, Cresco Labs, Wana Brands

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